Home In previous issues A tropical cyclone and a classic show! First, the storm…

A tropical cyclone and a classic show! First, the storm…

Rylee Sheehan with NZPH’s Bandito NZPH (Consul de la Vie - Manon des Souches x Arpege Pierreville)

By Sally Reid
Photography: private collection; Cornege Photography

Shows and cyclones do not go hand in hand, but in February this year the former, following hard on the heels of the latter, brought much-needed good cheer to breeders, riders and owners in an area that was almost destroyed by the storm.

A large part of New Zealand’s North Island was badly hit by tropical Cyclone Gabrielle in the middle of February. The damage it caused was almost beyond belief and, unfortunately, the worst-hit regions are where some of the top breeding farms, riders, trainers, and horse-related businesses are based. Approximately 80 horses lost their lives in the floods and metres-deep silt that followed Gabrielle’s unprecedented volume of rainfall, and hundreds more were injured.
There were many tales of horror, but also plenty of stories of outright heroism. Young couple Emmie Mulinder and Josh Hamilton tied themselves together with a garden hose and worked their way around their rapidly flooding 20-acre property, Josh swimming and Emmie keeping him secure. (See photos on page 31.) All 17 of their horses were guided to higher ground.
Fernhill Stud’s Ashley Hart also risked his life to swim nine mares and their foals to safety. Both Fernhill, which breeds the excellent ‘Kiwi’ prefix jumpers, and Emmie and Josh’s properties are in Hawke’s Bay, a region that was particularly badly hit. Other top studs in that same area include internationally renowned New Zealand Performance Horses (NZPH), which suffered serious damage (see opposite) although its hills provided refuge for the horses.

The NZPH sign, post Gabrielle

Hawke’s Bay is also the venue for New Zealand’s biggest and best-known equestrian event, the week-long Horse of the Year Show. This has been cancelled (due to Covid) for the past two years and was eagerly anticipated by riders from around the country. It, too, fell victim to the cyclone, as the district has been so badly damaged. The New Zealand Army is now using the Hastings Showgrounds, where HOY is held, as its base for cyclone recovery work, and will be there for many more months – possibly until October.

“A very sobering day”

After day one of the cyclone, Brigit Kirk, who owns New Zealand Performance Horses with her husband David Kirk, posted on Facebook: “David and I made a trip to what was our stable block and arena at NZPH. The destruction and devastation is unbelievable, with tack and gear strewn for hundreds of metres, or gone for good. A very sobering day.
“On the bright side, all our horses are safe, except one foal who had a broken leg. Adele White [NZPH breeding manager] and Cindy Wiffin [a neighbouring dressage rider] have done an amazing job ensuring the horses are safe and well fed. At Cindy’s we found several horses – not ours – who had been rescued from the flooding and are now cosy in gorgeous Canter for Cancer rugs kindly donated by Nicki Dwyer [founder of Canter for Cancer]. As the rain has started again there will be some very warm and happy horses tonight.”

The cyclone’s aftermath at NZPH and the damage from silt run-off below

To put Gabrielle’s rainfall into a comprehensible perspective, scientists worked out that the volume in one Hawke’s Bay catchment valley was the equivalent of 72 Olympic swimming pools every minute, for six hours. “A 250- square-metre house there would have had 65 tonnes of rain fall on it in those six hours,” said NIWA, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. As Brigit Kirk said, it was a very sobering day indeed... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber